Last week it was widely reported that a former Soviet and Russian military intelligence officer, Sergey Skripal — who had been working for MI6 since 1995 and had been convicted in Russia of high treason in 2006 before being released to the UK as part of the 2010 US-Russia spy swap — was found unconscious with his daughter on a public bench near a shopping center in Salisbury, Wiltshire, England. In Britain, the media and eccentric foreign minister were swift to blame Russian intelligence services of attempting to assassinate Skripal, who is currently still in coma in Salisbury District Hospital. In the past week the hysteria of the British press has escalated to the point of forcing PM Theresa May to issue a ridiculous statement on the matter last Thursday.
This tragic case is one more episode in a series of suspicious and unsolved deaths in Britain of valuable MI6 assets from Russia: Alexander Litvinenko (2006), Alexander Perepеlichny (2012), and Boris Berezovsky (2013).
This former officer in Russia’s FSB intelligence service, who was in charge of the surveillance and later the protection of the oligarch and government official Boris Berezovsky in the 1990s, defected to Britain in November 2000, soon after Russian prosecutors revived the Aeroflot fraud investigation and Berezovsky was once again questioned in court. That was at a time when the oligarch’s empire was being decimated by ongoing legal attacks instigated by the Russian government. Berezovsky clearly realised that he would eventually find himself in prison in Russia and so he began his quest for asylum, which would allow him to continue his political battle against the recently elected young Russian president Vladimir Putin. It is unclear whether Litvinenko defected at Berezovsky’s direct order or merely feared prosecution for crimes he might have committed as part of his collaboration with the oligarch who, according to the late Paul Klebnikov, was one of the kingpins of the Russian criminal world. As Litvinenko was not granted asylum in the UK until May 2001, we suspect that the negotiations over the terms of Litvinenko’s surrender to British intelligence services were not so easy. He did not possess any valuable intelligence, as he specialised in criminal investigation and security at the FSB, therefore he could be utilised only as a propaganda tool. This was the role he eventually accepted, after months of failed attempts to dodge this assignment, and he became a journalist for Chechenpress, supporting the most radical and intractable wing of the separatist movement in the Russian Caucasus, in addition to writing defamatory books and actively participating in every anti-Russia propaganda campaign in the international media.
A few days after receiving his long-awaited British passport in October 2006, he was featured in the headlines of all the mainstream global media as the “polonium victim of Putin’s bloody regime”, thus greatly increasing the global emotional payoff from the modest investments MI6 had put into this miserable figure. An examination of the time line of his stay on “hospitable” British soil suggests that his citizenship was a milestone he had been desperately awaiting so as to free himself of his shameful dependency on Her Majesty’s intelligence service. Once that was obtained, he was off the hook and then became the perfect sacred sacrifice on the altar of the ongoing anti-Russia campaign. Thus they danced on his bones.
The inquiry into his death, ordered by then-Interior Minister Theresa May in July 2014 (!), was completed by January 2016 and the findings publicly released. William Dunkerley offered an exhaustive diagnosis of that report in his opinion piece, published in the Guardian shortly thereafter. We strongly recommend that our readers reacquaint themselves with his arguments. In a nutshell, he exposes the document as having been heavily influenced by the anti-Russia PR campaign, inconsistent, unreliable, biased, of dubious credibility, and lacking evidence.
The “Godfather” of the Kremlin, as Paul Klebnikov branded him in the book that eventually claimed his life, Boris Berezovsky was the personification of the oligarchy at its ugliest. He acted as the éminence grise to President Yeltsin in the 1990s, raking in vast profits for his business empire and attempting to manipulate the political process in Russia. He even reportedly “approved” the candidacy of Vladimir Putin as Yeltsin’s successor back in 1999, confident that he and his circle would be able to curb and control the neophyte politician.
His aspirations were soon subjected to a cold shower. Three weeks after Putin’s first inauguration, the Berezovsky-controlled media launched a powerful campaign of opposition to the president’s plans to reform Russia’s federal system, which would deprive Berezovsky and other tycoons of the tools they used to manipulate the regional authorities. These were the first maneuvers in a political war which lasted for more than 12 years. Berezovsky was resolutely and methodically squeezed out of all official positions in Russia, a number of charges were filed against him, accusing him of abusing his powers, financial fraud, and other crimes. In late 2000 he left Russia for good, settled in London, and began his vigorous, costly, but ultimately futile efforts to oust Putin and regain his own influence over the Kremlin.
By September 2012, when Vladimir Putin was elected for his third term and after Berezovsky had lost his case against his business rival Roman Abramovich in London’s High Court, he surrendered. He wrote two resentful private letters to President Putin asking for forgiveness and permission to return to Russia without fear of arrest. He did not receive a formal reply of any kind from the Russian president, but perhaps by March 2013 he had been given some kind of other positive signals from Moscow. Those close to him claimed that he was full of life and optimism and plans for the future on the very date of March 23, 2013 on which he was found dead in a bathroom of his home near Ascot. The official investigation concluded that it had been “an act of suicide”, but failed to provide any supporting evidence. The most likely explanation is that he had been about to leave Britain for good, along with his fiancée Katerina Sabirova (she had purchased e-tickets for travel to Israel that were to be used on March 25, 2013), and so the MI6 spymasters, who were in charge of supervising “project Berezovsky” and had been closely monitoring him and were aware of his intentions, could not afford to let out of their reach.
Alexander Perepelichny was a Russian entrepreneur who specialised in what is delicately referred to as “private banking services”. He was laundering money for his clients, huge amounts of money acquired from illegal activities. Among those clients were a number of criminal bosses and corrupt government officials seeking to legitimise their funds by moving them into different types of assets outside Russia, mostly in the UK. Before the global economic crisis he possessed many hundreds of millions of US dollars entrusted to his management. Unfortunately for him, as a result of the Blue Monday Crash, he lost around US$200 million that belonged to his clients. Under increasing pressure from ‘some ‘grim-faced businessmen’ at home, in Jan 2010 he had to escape to Britain, where he quickly found a buyer for the sensitive information he possessed about some corrupt officials in Russia – a British investor and reported MI6 agent named William Browder, who had earned a fortune in Russia in 1990s and early 2000s, only to be later prosecuted there on tax fraud charges. Be it a coincidence or not, Perepelichny left Russia only weeks after the infamous Sergey Magnitsky mysteriously died in prison, an incident which appeared to be the cornerstone of a gargantuan, politically motivated case that resulted in the Magnitsky Act, the “Magnitsky list”, and other examples of gratuitous anti-Russia legal acts.
We are unable to delve into all the sprawling, amorphous details of the Magnitsky case today, although it deserves a very close look by unbiased researcher. What is really important for this topic is the following episode taken from William Browder’s breathtaking biography:
It took place in New York on Feb 3, 2015, when marshals from the U.S. District Court in Manhattan tried to serve him a subpoena to give evidence as part of the only trial thus far on US soil proceeding from the Magnitsky Act. (The details of that case can be found here.) The reason for Mr. Browder’s nervous behavior is obvious: his arguments served only political aims and were intended for cases in which the verdict is known from the beginning. But none of his claims could stand up to scrutiny by any experienced lawyer once real business interests were at stake, and this is exactly what happened with Mark Cymrot from BakerHostetler during Browder’s court deposition on Apr 15, 2015.
Returning to Perepelichny, we have to acknowledge that he was a key witness who could potentially destroy the high-political-stakes scam being conducted with the Magnitsky dossier. As Browder was responding with “I do not recall” and “I do not know” to any real question asked him in court, the US judiciary system might have been very interested in hearing from Perepelichny. This menace to the Magnitsky Act was eliminated one week before the bill passed the US House: on Nov. 10, 2012 Alexander Perepelichny was found dead outside his mansion in London. The police investigation did not yield any tangible results, but the theory of “Russian mafia” involvement was implanted in the international media at the proper time. One month later the Magnitsky Act was signed by President Obama…
As a public personality Sergey Skripal kept a far lower profile than any of the other three. While working as a Russian military intelligence (GRU) officer, he was recruited in Spain in 1995 by MI6 agent Pablo Miller, pressured into cooperating after being threatened with the exposure of his illegal business dealings. For the next few years he was busy selling mountains of classified information about Russian military secrets to Vauxhall Cross, although not everything is clear about his relationship to the SIS. E.g. it is unclear why he resigned from the GRU in 1999 at age 48 to take a position in the Foreign Ministry (and later – the regional government) in which he would have far less access to information. He apparently wanted to terminate this worring relationship and perhaps he succeeded – again, the circumstances of how he was leaked to the Russian security services in 2004 are vague and murky. It looks very much like that same SIS deliberately allowed this leak in order to punish an unruly, poorly controlled asset with no access to any significant information.
In any event, after serving less than six years of his 13-year sentence, in 2010 he was added to the list of spies whose swaps were being negotiated by the US and Russia. Still we do not know whether the US included his name with the approval of their British partners or if Skripal perhaps arrived in Britain as a surprise guest. Since then he had kept a low profile, living in Salisbury but reportedly advising British intelligence personnel about the workings of Russian clandestine operations. He would be of very little use to the Crown unless he were sacrificed as another innocent victim to justify the bugaboo of the “Russian threat” in the UK and worldwide.
The one notable similarity shared by the very different individuals in this foursome of exposed spies is that they all held an irrational belief in the reliability of the British justice and banking systems, other institutions, and intelligence services. None of them seemed to fully appreciate the simple fact that they would only be treated as true gentlemen as long as they served British interests. Once they began to represent even a potential threat to Britain’s ongoing political operations or once their current value dropped below a certain threshold, they were easily sacrificed to fulfill their final, “last, but not least” task – to serve as a log to be added to fuel the flames of Russophobia in their new and very temporary homeland.